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Importance of an Ergonomic Friendly Environment for Pregnant Working Mums Ergonomics is the scientific study of people and their working conditions, especially done to improve their effectiveness

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Simply put- ergonomics explains how people can optimally work in their environment. Pregnancy is a normal healthy condition during which a woman's body goes through several changes. The body's shape is altered while gradually gaining weight. As time passes, the belly becomes progressively larger and the center of gravity moves upwards and forward (outside the body) rather than being normally centered at the navel. These changes also affect a women's balance and strain the spine.

Additionally, weight gain, increased curve of the spine and hormonal changes cause joints and ligaments in the spine to loosen and become unstable. This leads to an increased strain on the back muscles and explains why back pain is experienced by almost 80per cent of the pregnant population. Muscles around the hip and pelvis begin to stretch, soften and relax in preparation for birth.

To compensate for all the body changes, posture is also affected during pregnancy. Pregnant women tend to throw their shoulders behind, lean on their heels, curve their spines further and "waddle' while walking.

For every pound, a woman gains during pregnancy an extra five pounds of pressure is put on the hips, knees, and lumbar spinal joints.

Today most women choose to work through their pregnancies until the birth of their baby. Be it nausea or fatigue, backaches or headaches, leaky bladder or swollen ankles, it is hard for an expecting mum to be comfortable throughout the day. Knowing about the constant body changes and adaptations through pregnancy it becomes essential to make a pregnant woman's working environment safe and comfortable so that she can be at her productive best.

Even for a non-pregnant individual, sitting for 10-12 hours at a desk or in front of a computer can cause fatigue, neck and back stiffness, poor circulation and back pain. For an expecting employee, add to this all the pregnancy related body changes. Staying at a desk for hours or standing on swollen feet or even running errands that require bending and lifting all add to her pregnancy woes. Workplace modifications and ergonomic changes can ensure the expectant mother a comparatively relaxed and focused work environment.

It is advised that both the employer and the expecting employee together work towards setting up a pregnancy-ergonomic friendly work zone.

For the working & expecting mum:

  1. Avoid staying on your feet for too long. If you are in a long-standing job- take breaks to sit and stretch. Use a low footstool to support your feet, while keeping one knee bent when standing. Switch feet regularly. This helps take some load off the back and prevent back pain.

  2. For those who have long sitting hours at work, take time out to stand up and stretch at regular intervals. Use a low footstool or sturdy object to rest your feet under the desk. Preventing your feet from hanging for long hours, would help avoid/reduce swollen feet caused due to gravity.

  3. Adjust your chair to comfort, use a lumbar cushion to support your back or a soft pillow can be placed on your seat to prevent a sore bottom. Avoid a chair that would make you sink in the seat and choose a firm base for the chair. Recline your seat if you can to add roam between your growing belly and work station.

  4. Adjust the height of your monitor and desk to prevent you from slouching due to your growing belly and increasing spine curvature. This would help against neck and back stiffness.

  5. If you spend your day working on a keyboard, ensure your wrists are straight and hands are lower than your elbow when you type. You could opt for a keyboard with a wrist rest or wear a wrist brace while typing. This would help prevent carpal tunnel syndrome- swollen tissue around the wrists that compress nerves causing pain, tingling, numbness of hands. Carpal tunnel is known to be common during pregnancy amongst women.

  6. Avoid lifting heavy weights & do not lift them directly from the ground, even more so by bending from the back. Instead, bend your knees, squat partially, and lift the weight by distributing it through your arms and legs rather than the back.

  7. Listen to your body cues and follow your instincts. Slow down your pace if you are feeling exhausted, take occasional breaks as and when required and do not ignore any gut feelings that could indicate health signs in pregnancy.

Empty your bladder as needed. Don't hold it in and combat pregnancy UTI this way. Plan to pee every 2 hours, this will also prevent you from reaching a sudden bladder bursting point.

  1. Dress to your comfort and wear clothing that is breathable. Avoid restricted tight clothing that could cut off circulation. Opt for comfortable footwear that is not too flat or with heels that are too high.

  2. Take frequent breaks. If there is a lounger or sofa, use it to lie down for a couple of minutes if necessary.

Schedule meetings that don't clash with your meal times or make you skip meals. If you have long working hours, add small snacks/nibbles before and after your main lunch meal to avoid acidity and energy level crash. Avoid erratic eating.

Ensure you keep yourself well hydrated throughout the day by keeping a bottle to sip water from at your desk.

  1. If your work involves frequent air travel, wear the seat belt low underneath the belly. During a long flight, practice stretching and walking to keep the blood flowing to the legs and feet. Try to book an aisle seat if possible, as pregnant women need to be near the bathroom.

Simple stretches and exercises for when you are at work

-Do some stretching exercises at least once every 2 hours. Ensure you stretch your back, legs, and neck.

-Hold the stretch for 30 seconds.

-Raise your arms above your head, clasp your fingers and reach up.

-Place your hands on a desk or table, step back a bit and stretch your back.

-Sit and rotate your feet at the ankle in both directions

- While seated, rotate your shoulders backward and down, trying to make the biggest circles you can

- Sit on a chair, feet hip-width apart, lift one knee to a comfortable height, slowly straighten the leg without bending the knee. Then return back to the bent position.

-Take some time out between your lunch break for a short work post your meal.

For the working expecting mum's employer:

  1. Conduct regular ergonomic evaluations to address poor habits and necessary changes for a healthier working environment. Ensure you have ergonomic policies in place for expecting working mums. Decrease the ergonomic risk factor by implementing reasonable accommodations.

  2. Support pregnant women by being flexible with their work schedules. Ensure they are not burdened with work during meal times. Allow more frequent short breaks.

  3. Limit standing time for pregnant employees and install footrests where necessary around their work station. Provide them with chairs that can be easily adjusted as per their needs.

  4. Remove obstacles from under their desks and provide a working area that has ample space for them to move around.

  5. Assign fewer tasks to pregnant women that involve sudden and quick bursts of movement, lifting heavy loads, long working hours, frequent standing or prolonged sitting.

The decision of whether to continue working or not until delivery has a lot to do with the work environment for pregnant women. Making the working zone ergonomically friendly will not only help ease the pregnancy tenure but also help with better compliance and work productivity.

Dr. Vanshika Gupta Adukia

Founder of Therhappy, Pregnancy, Childbirth & Lactation Specialist and Pelvic Floor Physiotherapist

Dr. Vanshika Gupta-Adukia is a Pregnancy Specialist and the Founder of Therhappy. She is an internationally certified Pre and Post Natal Fitness Educator, a CAPPA certified Childbirth & Lactation Educator Counselor and a Pelvic Floor Physiotherapist.

Dr. Vanshika's keen interest in women’s health, curiosity about childbirth and life of a fetus in a mother’s womb led her to venture in the journey of birthing and beyond as well as start Therhappy. During her journey as a Physiotherapist, she realised that India has very few Trained Experts in Pregnancy & Childbirth and hence, Dr. Vanshika founded Therhappy.

Therhappy is a one-stop shop that educates pregnant mothers and new moms until their child is a toddler on areas including lactation, nutrition and fitness for both the mother & the child. Dr. Vanshika has successfully trained and helped several mothers during their pregnancy and post their delivery. She is a member of the Maharashtra State Occupational Therapy and Physiotherapy Council as well as a member of the Indian Academy of Fitness Training. She devises a tailor-made programme for each of her client and gives them individual attention as per their requirement.

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